The difference between a big idea and a big waste of time

When I first learned about the proposed framework for downtown, I was amazed to see such big, new ideas being proposed by the consultant hired by the Town of Chapel Hill and the Downtown Partnership. This proposal presents an opportunity for Chapel Hill to do something visionary and to once again have a thriving urban center that is the envy of other communities. But.

The only way that this Big Idea will evolve into a Good Idea is if Chapel Hill can make this vision our own. Not only that, but I also think this plan might have trouble being approved in Chapel Hill without generating significant community investment in its approach. Or, as I said in June:

I know how Chapel Hillians are.  Unless you have banged down their door and insisted on getting their feedback upon pain of public embarrassment, they will not pay attention to this very important conversation until it is way too late to have meaningful input. When this happens we all miss out - not only do town residents feel that they are not getting their say and that things are changing in ways they don't like, the community also is worse for not having heard and incorporated the good ideas of the very smart people that live here. 

So what is the Town of Chapel Hill doing to get the word out and build support for this plan? As far as I can tell, they're not doing any thing out of the ordinary with this extraordinary proposal.  I know the town staff are working hard to get out public information all the time, but they either don't have any new ideas, or they don't have the capacity to implement them. If we really want to change our downtown, we have to change the way we talk about downtown. 

So during last week's public information meeting about the downtown framework, I brainstormed a list of suggestions for how the town can better get the word out and engage the community in a conversation about the future of downtown Chapel Hill.  

  • Offer presentations and lead discussions at neighborhood meetings, especially in downtown neighborhoods like Northside and East Franklin.
  • Host information sessions at local businesses downtown. Maybe even a happy hour.
  • Visit local blogs, post information, participate in the conversation.
  • Host a forum on the Town web site for discussion of the proposal (and downtown issues in general).
  • Hold focus groups around town.
  • Post better maps on the Town web site. Cheap option: use an overlay on Google Maps so people can really see and engage with the proposed changes.
  • Put large paper maps of the proposal on display at Town Hall and the Library.
  • Advertise on the buses, and distribute information at downtown bus stops.

I came up with the above in about 10 minutes during a meeting. Surely if the town really wants to do something visionary downtown, they can think of a few new ideas of their own. If not, they should at least have the wisdom and humility to accept the suggestions of those of us who are trying to help. (I say this because I got the distinct impression from some town staff that they were not at all in the mood for hearing outside ideas, especially any that might be critical of their work.)

So anyway, the rest of us will march on into the future with or without Town officials at our side. Let's show them where we're going and hopefully they'll want to come with. Please share your own ideas for increasing engagement and community input on this and other pressing local government issues.



Who besides us geeks wants to read through however many pages that doc is?  Or even sit through a long meeting about it?  Love the ideas of putting on buses and big map at town hall. 

Give the High School students service learning hours to participate.

 I say this because I got the distinct impression from some town staff that they were not at all in the mood for hearing outside ideas, especially any that might be critical of their work. As usual, the government itself has no direct incentive to pull this off effectively.  Somebody who actually cares about it, like Ruby, can rattle off ideas without even trying -- because she actually wants to see something happen.  What do elected officials lose by allowing this to be a non-issue among the public?  Not much.Painful as it may be, pay attention next time a commercial break comes on while you're watching TV.  Notice how many companies are listing Twitter and Facebook information these days?  Governments are a decade behind everyone else in terms of communication and information logistics, because they have no reason to do any better.  It's the reason they had no interest in getting feedback from Ruby at the meeting, and it's the reason they'll have trouble engaging the public once again on this.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe they did do some sort of information-gathering session with a couple of groups near downtown -- something I seem to remember reading on one of the consultant's slides.I otherwise agree with the gist of what you say.

There's always more one can do, but in this case, several of the ideas you list have been done.  I know Kling Stubbins has made multiple presentations outside of Council Chambers - to the CHDP, to Friends of Downtown, to Northside Neighborhood Watch - and I think there have been others. I know the Cameron-McCauley neighborhood leadership was made aware of the effort and the presentations.  Some of these groups have been large, some smaller, and there's always more possible.  You might want to get the list from Dwight of the presentations made.


We agree; some of us were at these meetings as well, however, the "staff"  are civil servants or government employees with little decision-making power. They serve, report, recommend and then politicians (Council) vote according to self interests (keeping their seat), except for the mayor, who I believe won because he's not someone who is terribly afraid of standing alone on issues with diplomacy and tact of course. For progress to take place, this town's Council will have to follow the mayor, the town manager and the economic development consultants in seeing that progress, revenues are important to all cities and that vibrant small college towns did not get there by electing members that are voting to please a few self-serving activists or wealthy estate and landowners for fear of loosing  those coveted seats or "thrones". Hopefully this downtown will make it into the 21st century with the recent changes in leadership. 

You're making some pretty strong comments here, some of which aren't consistent with my own experience with our government and elected officials.But before I try to respond, I'd like to know with whom I'm talking.


Community Guidelines

By using this site, you agree to our community guidelines. Inappropriate or disruptive behavior will result in moderation or eviction.


Content license

By contributing to OrangePolitics, you agree to license your contributions under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 United States License.

Creative Commons License

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.